Stationed at a remote, undermanned Army outpost in a dangerous patch of northeastern Afghanistan, Stephan Mace knew trouble was brewing. His father says U.S. military commanders should have known that the troops there "were sitting ducks."
Larry Mace's soldier son was buried Monday at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, one of eight U.S. troops killed earlier this month in Kamdesh in northeast Afghanistan when several hundred militant fighters armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades stormed Combat Outpost Keating.
The attack at Kamdesh, along with a similarly costly battle a year earlier in Wanat, have emerged as powerful symbols of the challenges the Obama administration faces as the war in Afghanistan enters its ninth year.
Without more troops and firepower, the Taliban-led insurgency will grow stronger. But devoting more people and equipment risks an open-ended commitment to a war increasingly unpopular with the American public.
American commanders didn't reinforce Keating or pull the troops that were there out in time, Larry Mace said.
Led by an Army band, Stephan Mace's flag-draped casket was borne to the grave site on a horse-drawn caisson. Under blue skies with a cool wind blowing, he was remembered as an all-American boy from rural Virginia who answered his country's call to duty. After three rifle volleys by a firing party, a bugler played Taps. A bagpiper followed with Amazing Grace.
More than a year before the battle at Kamdesh, nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 27 more were wounded when their base at Wanat, a village about 30 miles from Kamdesh, was nearly overrun by insurgents.
"The only differences between the two (battles) are the dates and the names of the soldiers killed," Larry Mace said. "They haven't changed their game plan. They're fighting a war with too few people."
Following the Oct. 3 battle that killed Stephan Mace, U.S. forces left Keating and another outpost at Kamdesh. The withdrawal had been planned before the attack had occurred, according to the NATO-led coalition.
Forces redirected after attack
A spokesman said the shift was part of a new strategy outlined months ago by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to shut down difficult-to-defend outposts and redirect forces toward larger population areas to protect more civilians.
Even as his son was being remembered as a hero, Larry Mace remains angered by the circumstances surrounding his son's death. Stephan was home in August on two weeks leave. Sitting in the living room of their home in Winchester, Va., Mace said Stephan told him the Taliban were massing in Kamdesh.
Yet strict rules of engagement kept the soldiers from taking aggressive action to prevent an attack, Larry Mace said.
Mace recalled that Stephan gave his dog tags to his brother Brad before returning.
"I think he knew he wasn't coming back," Larry Mace said.